The public mission of private liberal arts colleges is not always well defined. Professor of English Paula Krebs, professor of English and now a special assistant to the president, would like to change that. In her view, the change should start with encouraging liberal arts colleges to think seriously about their community responsibilities.
“The social contract between the nation and higher education, ideally, means that both parties recognize our mutual obligations,” writes Krebs in an essay published by Inside Higher Education. In large measure, liberal arts colleges meet this responsibility by “preparing educated critical thinkers, ready for graduate study or a career.” But campuses should also think beyond the education of individual students to building institutional efforts to serve others.
Contributing to the institution’s communities in a systematic and organized way would also serve the mission of the college, she says, by adding value to students’ learning. “Becoming aware of and then cultivating ties with various off-campus entities can strengthen a liberal arts college as well as strengthening the job prospects for our students,” Krebs wrote. “We need to be in the business of defining our relevance beyond our own walls as we prepare students for life beyond our campuses.”
Commenting on her essay in Inside Higher Ed and her new role at Wheaton, Krebs said:
“We have a whole range of connections with the world beyond our walls–through the Office of Service, Spirituality, and Social Responsibility, with the volunteerism it promotes; through the Office of Career Services, with its focus on meaningful internships; and through the Alumnae/i Relations Office, which maintains connections with our graduates. But Wheaton’s links off campus extend beyond the work of those offices.
“I would like to compile a huge inventory of all the ways Wheaton works in its various communities (because we’re not just part of one community) so we can see what we’re already doing, as well as what we might like to be doing. When people think of Wheaton, I want them to think not only of the quality education that happens here, but also of all the ways we contribute to the wellbeing of the world beyond our walls.”